A Season In Hell: My Medical Nightmare – Part 2
By Don Millard
So, now the doctors were telling me I was just fine, completely ignoring that this crisis all began with a dramatic trip to the ER and multiple test
abnormalities that had nothing to do with my mind. Despite my now normal blood test results, I still felt sick and knew something was terribly wrong. But nothing, NOTHING could have prepared me for what life had whipped up for me next in this medical nightmare. If it hadn’t happened to me personally, I probably wouldn’t have believed it, either. For me, what happened next was the ultimate example of truth being stranger than fiction.
As I was trying to describe how sick I felt to the doctor, he asked my girlfriend:
“What have you noticed?”
“His color is just awful. It’s not the same as when I first met him.”
“Hmm…” replied the doctor.
It was around this same time that my medical doctors started telling me I should maybe see a psychiatrist. WTF? I was 24, with a girlfriend and a budding career. A psychiatrist? Did my thoughts cause me to have blood in my stool? A low-grade fever? A high white blood cell count? The last thing in the world I wanted to do was go to a damn doctor. Yes, doc, instead of making love to my girlfriend or doing comedy, I’d much rather drag her here with me to go to see doctors who tell me I’m not even sick! Isn’t that every 24 year old guy’s idea of a good time?
The doctors were telling me I seemed depressed. Ya think? What other mood should I have been in? How would YOU react if you knew you were sick and you were being told it was all in your head? Would you dance a jig? Raise the roof? Have a block party?
The doctors didn’t know me before I was sick. They didn’t know my personality–all they knew about me was me in my present sick and miserable form.
Meanwhile, my girlfriend’s Mom, the nurse, told me that if I really was sick, my illness would reveal itself sooner or later.
She was right.
Are you sitting down?
And then it happened… To my absolute horror and disbelief, my entire body started SHRINKING. Yes, SHRINKING. I couldn’t believe it, either. I would’ve never, never believed that such a thing could happen to a person, much less that it would happen to me! But, as far-fetched as this sounds, if YOUR body started shrinking, wouldn’t YOU notice? We are all experts on our own body because we’re the only ones living in it. You don’t have to have an advanced degree in medicine or be a Mensa member to notice this.
Now I was sure I was dying.
Every day, for about a week, my body, both bone and tissue, shrank. To say this was terrifying is the understatement of the century. During this horrible time, my girlfriend said: “Your face is getting thinner and your butt’s going away.” Was this all in her head, too?
Other than myself, Amy knew my body better than anyone else–including the damn doctors who’d never known me before this catastrophe.
Panicked, I tried to eat even more than usual, thinking that maybe this would stave off the shrinking. It didn’t.
As horrifying as this was, the true torture was what was happening to my skin. It was as if I was losing all normal sensation and feeling in my skin–not numbness, but a major change, especially in my face. It was like my skin was dying, leaving my soul or spirit trapped inside a dead body. There are really no words to describe how terrifying this was. I felt like I was just a pair of eyes and that I was suspended between life and death; too sick to have a life but not sick enough to die. It was like my own private Purgatory.
It was also around this time that I had the most vivid dream of my life. In my dream I was in St. Mary’s Church in Clinton, Connecticut, the church my Mom and I had attended, or rather, the church my Mom dragged me to. My Mother had died of cancer in 1986 at the age of 56. But in this dream she was very much alive and was walking in the aisle away from the altar with her hand outstretched. I was walking down the aisle toward her with my hand outstretched as well. It all seemed to be in slow motion as we came closer and closer to one another, and, just as our hands were about to touch, I woke up. This didn’t have the feel of an ordinary dream to put it mildly. I took some comfort from the dream, even though I’m agnostic.
“What is happening to me?” I screamed, as Amy tried to comfort me.
And then, after about a week, the shrinking stopped just as suddenly and mysteriously as it had begun, leaving me a shell of my former self in more ways than one and effectively killing me at the age of 24. Twenty four. The same age as James Dean when he died. Dean died in September and my illness had struck me in September.
I couldn’t believe that this sickness could ravage my body so completely and yet leave what was left of me to suffer on and in mourning for the body and life I’d now lost. I knew right then and there that I’d never have another normal day in my life.
It had been only roughly a month since my frantic ride to the ER and now it was all this.
The only good thing–if you can call it that–was that I now knew with absolute certainty that my illness was a physical one and not the product of a fevered brain or a figment of my imagination. No, it was all too horrible and all too real.
To demonstrate to my girlfriend what had happened to me, I put on a pair of pants she had got for me before I was sick. They had fit perfectly when I first wore them a few months before. Now when I put them on, they were noticeably too long and came down over my feet. So, either I had shrunk or my pants grew. I’ll let you decide.
If my body had just shrunk and nothing else, it wouldn’t have been so bad. Bizarre and upsetting, yes, but I could have dealt with it. It was, however, the accompanying changes to my skin that made my condition so agonizing and intolerable. My skin has always been my number one complaint since my body shrank. It’s like being entombed within your own body.
Now I REALLY have something to tell the doctors about, I thought. But what happened next was, for me, just as unbelievable as what had just transpired within my body.
When I went back to the doctors and told them how my body had shrunk, they simply and categorically said that this could not occur. They looked at me like I was saying the Earth was being overrun by giant pink elephants. They all told me that such a thing was impossible and that I was just imagining it all! I knew that this would make me sound crazy, but I was simply reporting what had taken place within my body. It would’ve never occurred to me to say this happened to me unless it truly had. I was in a state of stunned disbelief myself. Just because something hasn’t happened doesn’t mean it CAN’T happen. Forty years ago AIDS couldn’t happen, either. I wanted to strangle these doctors. A scant two months before I was getting laughs and applause from an audience; now I was being treated like a basket case who didn’t know his own body; instead of cracking people up, I was being told I was cracking up. It was all like a dark cosmic joke–and the joke was on me.
If all of this was just in my head, I would’ve never been rushed to the ER to start with. In the beginning, there was no doubt that there was a physical disturbance going in my BODY. All my life people had told me how intelligent and perceptive I was. Now, suddenly, I was delusional in the eyes of my doctors; even my girlfriend’s family and my own father started to treat me like I didn’t know what I was talking about. It’s impossible to describe how much this hurt.
I even brought pictures with me; pictures of myself from just a year ago when I healthy and wasn’t complaining of being sick or strange things happening to my body. The doctors would take a very quick glance at the photos and then say, “It looks like you’ve lost some weight.”
When I told them that my weight was the same as it had been when I was healthy, they just stared at me and said nothing.
I felt like I had crossed over into The Twilight Zone and that there was no way in hell that this could be reality. But Rod Serling never showed up to explain it all to me.
No one wants to be sick. At 24, who says they’re sick unless they’re sick? Not only was I having to cope with being sick in a strange and terrifying way, I was also having to cope with not being believed. This is a hell I would not wish on my worst enemy. Except for maybe Glenn Beck.
This is awful to say, but I started to envy people in wheelchairs–not because I thought I had it worse than they did–but because no one was questioning their plight or the severity of their condition. No one was telling them to “snap out of it” or that it was all in their head. No one was questioning their character.
But the worst part about this whole nightmare was my girlfriend saying, “Don’t I make you happy?” This cut me to the core because even one tenth of what she was doing for me would’ve made me happy under normal circumstances. I would have to invent a new language to even remotely express how much this broke my heart.